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First new West Bank settlement in ten years?

Phyllis Bennis on a two-state solution: "From what I saw in this trip to the West Bank, I would say that if it’s not already impossible, it is so close as to be virtually the same. The division of Palestinian land within the West Bank, has divided the West Bank, as have the series of roads that connect settlements but bypass Palestinian villages, towns, refugee camps. The checkpoints—imagine 567 checkpoints, according to the United Nations, in this tiny territory the size of the US state of Delaware. It’s insane."

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JESSICA WEATHERUP, PRODUCER (VOICEOVER): Is Israel about to build the first settlement in the West Bank in nearly a decade? The only hurdle that remains is final approval from Defense Minister Ehud Barak. According to the daily Maariv, the settler population in the West Bank grew by 15,000 last year. Settlements in the occupied territory are illegal under international law, and Palestinian officials were quick to criticize the proposal. Saeb Erekat, a senior Palestinian negotiator, said, "This is destroying the process of a two-state solution." (July 24, 2008) We spoke with Phyllis Bennis, senior analyst at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, DC, who recently returned from the West Bank.

PHYLLIS BENNIS, INSTITUTE FOR POLICY STUDIES: It had been more than two years since my last trip, and although I knew that things had deteriorated, I was quite shocked at the speed of the deterioration, the speed of settlement expansion, the speed of the creation of new apartheid roads throughout the occupied West Bank—I was, of course, unable to go to Gaza on this trip—the speed in which Palestinians are being squeezed into smaller and smaller territory, smaller and smaller lives, resulting in smaller and smaller identities, is proceeding at a pace that I found absolutely shocking. Well, there’s a serious question right now whether a real two-state solution in the viable sense of two real states is any longer possible. From what I saw in this trip to the West Bank, I would say that if it’s not already impossible, it is so close as to be virtually the same. The division of Palestinian land within the West Bank, which is partly about the so-called apartheid wall, which does not, of course, divide Palestinian territory from Israeli territory—it’s almost entirely within Palestinian territory, dividing Palestinians from which other—has divided the West Bank, as have the series of roads that connect settlements but bypass Palestinian villages, towns, refugee camps. The checkpoints—imagine 567 checkpoints, according to the United Nations, in this tiny territory the size of the US state of Delaware. It’s insane. And if you look at the maps, particularly the very good maps produced by the United Nations, you see an incredible swiss cheese arrangement, where Israeli-controlled land is the cheese, and the Palestinian towns, villages, camps are the holes in the cheese. They are disconnected from each other, they’re not contiguous, and new roads are being built, new bridges are being constructed, new tunnels are being dug to link these non-contiguous enclaves, bantustans if you want to call them that, and so that they can be called contiguous when they’re clearly not. So you have some towns, like the city of Qalqilya in the northern West Bank, completely surrounded by the wall. The city next to it, a tiny little town, is also completely surrounded by the wall, each with one gate. And you can’t get from one town to the other through those gates—they’re on opposite sides. There is now a tunnel that’s been created between the two towns. But it’s a very isolating kind of existence for those 40,000 people who live, for example, in the city of Qalqilya, once a market town right on the Green Line. Israelis and Palestinians mixed freely for years. It was a market center for produce, a very rich agricultural area. In that town now that’s now completely surrounded by the wall, there is virtually no commerce in and out. And the key figure of all this, again according to the United Nations, if you add up the 10 percent of West Bank land that was appropriated to build the wall, the amount of land taken by settlements, their expansions, and the land they claim as security zones around them, the land that’s been expropriated to build these new roads and bridges and tunnels, most of the Jordan Valley, which has all been declared a closed military zone, and the new set of Israeli-declared Green Zones or nature preserves, what you find is that a full 40 percent of the land of the West Bank is now prohibited for Palestinian residential or commercial or agricultural use. It is now under Israeli military control. So what is up for negotiations is now only 60 percent of the land of the West Bank, which of course itself is only about 18 percent of historic Palestine.

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